Raiders' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 22, 2021

Raiders' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    Recently, the Las Vegas Raiders have had some surprising subtractions from their roster, as well as some strong additions. And with this year's NFL free-agency period only one week old, their team could continue to change as the offseason moves on.

    Needing to clear some cap space in order to make some free-agent signings, Las Vegas was successful in doing so, allowing it to make some notable additions to its roster. That includes defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Kenyan Drake, wide receiver John Brown and others.

    However, the Raiders' most noteworthy move of the offseason thus far was their decision to trade Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals. Only time will tell if that was a wise move. But it's clearly one that greatly changes how Las Vegas' offense will look in 2021.

    Here's a look at the players who the Raiders have added during free agency so far, along with grades for several of their key early-offseason decisions.

Free-Agent Additions

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    DE Yannick Ngakoue: two years, $26 million

    RB Kenyan Drake: two years, $11 million

    DE Solomon Thomas: one year, $5 million

    WR John Brown: one year, $3.75 million

    DT Quinton Jefferson: one year, $3.25 million

    C Nick Martin: unknown terms

    Moves via ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. Contract information via Spotrac.

The Offensive Line Will Be a Work in Progress

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    It didn't take long for the Raiders to nearly reshape their entire offensive line this offseason. They traded center Rodney Hudson to the Arizona Cardinals, sent tackle Trent Brown to the New England Patriots and dealt guard Gabe Jackson to the Seattle Seahawks. All three were starters for Las Vegas last season, with Hudson and Jackson playing every game.

    Not having Hudson will be a huge loss, as the 31-year-old has been one of the best centers in the NFL in recent years. In exchange, the Raiders got a third-round pick from the Cardinals, while they also sent a seventh-round selection along with Hudson.

    Las Vegas' offensive line won't look completely different in 2021. It re-signed tackle Denzelle Good, who started 14 games last season, and guard Richie Incognito, who played only two games in 2020 because of an ankle injury and will be looking to bounce back in his age-38 season.

    The Raiders brought in center Nick Martin, who has started 62 games for the Houston Texans over the past four seasons. But if he ends up being Las Vegas' starter, he'd be a clear downgrade from Hudson.

    Depending on the rest of its offseason moves (including in the 2021 NFL draft), the Raiders' offensive line may be weaker in the short term. But perhaps these moves will end up paying off in the long run.

    Grade: C-

The Pass Rush Got a Needed Boost

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    Terrance Williams/Associated Press

    One of the Raiders' biggest needs this offseason was to bolster their pass rush. In 2020, they ranked 29th in the NFL with 21 sacks. They needed to add players who will help them put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Las Vegas' best free-agent signing of the offseason has been defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who should help greatly improve the team's defensive front. The soon-to-be 26-year-old has had at least eight sacks in each of his first five NFL seasons, totaling 45.5 in 78 games during that span. Ngakoue began his career with four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who were coached by new Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley during Ngakoue's rookie campaign.

    In addition to Ngakoue, Las Vegas has signed Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson to add to its defensive line. Thomas, who will be 26 in August, was limited to two games last season because of a torn left ACL and could bounce back in 2021. The soon-to-be 28-year-old Jefferson has been a solid contributor over his five-year NFL career with the Seahawks and Bills.

    Ngakoue should be a force for the Raiders' pass rush, while Thomas has potential and Jefferson will provide quality depth. All were strong moves that should help Las Vegas fill a huge need on its defense.

    Grade: A  

A Two-Headed Rushing Attack Could Work Well for Offense

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    The Raiders needed to bring in a No. 2 running back to play behind starter Josh Jacobs this offseason with Devontae Booker becoming a free agent. It didn't seem like it was going to add Kenyan Drake, who has been a starter since getting traded from Miami to Arizona in 2019.

    However, the 27-year-old Drake signed with Las Vegas, and he'll now form a two-headed rushing attack with Jacobs. Both running backs attended Alabama, but they just missed each other. Drake played for the Crimson Tide from 2012-15, while Jacobs was there from 2016-18.

    "To share that role with Josh with him being such a capable back, I feel like it spells success for this team," Drake said, per Levi Damien of Raiders Wire.

    Drake set career highs in rushing yards (955) and touchdowns (10) in 15 games for the Cardinals last season, so he could be a great complement to Jacobs in Las Vegas' backfield. However, the Raiders will have to pay Drake $11 million over the next two seasons, and with the team having other needs, perhaps that money would have been better spent elsewhere.

    If the addition of Drake takes Las Vegas' offense to another level, then it was likely worth it. But there's a slight chance that the needs that remain unfilled could end up outweighing this decision.

    Grade: B